While there is some academic debate over just what distinguishes "synchronicity" from "coincidence" I would suggest there is no difference of kind in this matter. I think it's more likely a difference of degree. Rather than a dichotomy it's a continuum; something like a thermometer that measures one thing, degrees of temperature. The temperature is either hotter or colder. Our hypothetical "thermometer" might read COINCIDENCE on the low end and SYNCHRONICITY at the high end. What determines where an event might fall along this continuum would depend on at least two things:
(1) the degree of perceived meaningfulness of the event and
(2) the odds against the event even happening in the first place.
You're welcome to twist or
tweak that analogy any way you like or dismiss it altogether but it
works for me. Having said that, however, I'm not sure which of those two
factors carries more weight; the "perceived meaningfulness" factor or
the "odds" factor. The reason I say that is because of some events I've
experienced personally which, because of the high "odds factor", I felt
were more than just coincidence but, on the other hand, the "perceived
meaningfulness factor" was pretty low. Unless I was just too dense to
pick up on their deeper meaning! Let me show you what I mean. The
following are actual experiences I've had with this phenomenon.
THE BOOK, THE BUCK, AND THE BIC
It was the summer of
1975 and I had just spent several peaceful days at a cabin in the
Methow Valley on the eastern side of Washington state. I had also just
finished reading a book called INCREDIBLE COINCIDENCE by author and
psychic researcher Alan Vaughan. The book is a collection of truly
incredible coincidences in people's lives. The last part of the book is a
discussion of the concept of synchronicity. The author informs us that
after reading the book, the reader may very well experience some rather
remarkable coincidences, simply from having been made aware of the fact
that such things do happen.
All too soon it was time for me to make the four hour trip back to
my home in Seattle; a trip I had taken countless times. I had gone about
two miles down the North Cascades Highway with the sun shining and the
thick forests lining the roadside when I noticed I was speeding along at
about 70 miles per hour. This was not unusual. What was unusual was
that I suddenly thought to myself, “I really should slow down. A deer
could run out in front of me”. In all of the many times I had driven
that stretch of highway I had never seen a deer on the road and I had
never even thought about it before. But no sooner had the thought
crossed my mind, as I rounded the bend, sure enough a deer came running
out onto the road in front of me. Fortunately I was slowing down and was
able to avoid running into it. Okay, that was pretty cool but there was
more to come.
After about an hour's drive I came to a favorite spot where a river
runs along the highway. There is a nice little roadside park at that
point so I decided to pull over and enjoy the view for a few minutes. I
got out of the car and went to light up a cigarette but noticed that I
had left my lighter back at the cabin and the lighter in the car didn't
work. Then I noticed a campfire smouldering about 50 feet away from
where I stood. I thought I could light my cigarette from the hot coals
so I began to walk over there. As I approached, I noticed there was some
camping gear and other personal items around the fire, including a
woman's purse. The campers were down at the river and saw me walking
toward their campsite. I decided rather than arouse their suspicion and
disturb their activity I would just turn around and walk back to my car.
About halfway to my car I looked down and noticed the sun gleaming on
something that was mostly hidden under a small bush. I bent down to see
what it was. I reached out and picked it up. I couldn't believe my eyes.
It was a brand new Bic lighter.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE
I was standing at the
magazine rack in a local department store, looking through a book of
Time-Life photographs. As I flipped through the pages there was one
photo that especially interested me. I looked at it for a minute and
continued on through the pages to the end of the book. Then I wanted to
take one more look at that particular photo but I couldn't remember what
page it was on. I also forgot the title of the photo but I thought if I
looked through the index I might recognize the title when I saw it. I
turned to the index and, starting at the top, I ran my finger down the
list of titles. When I saw the title I was looking for I ran my finger
across the column to see the page number. At the exact instant, the
precise moment that my eyes saw the page number, 128, a child, in the
adjoining aisle, separated by a six-foot tall shelving partition, said
in a loud voice, “One twenty eight!” I just blinked my eyes and shook my
head and thought to myself, “Wow. That was weird.”
Apparently, he and another child were arguing about something and
“one twenty eight” had something to do with their own private
conversation. I had been so involved in the book that I hadn't even
really been aware of their presence until his voice echoed what my eyes
were seeing. It was like being awakened out of a dream. When you think
about it, the odds against that happening, at that exact instant, must
SYNCHRONICITY? SHOW ME A SIGN!
One day while browsing
through a copy of Reader's Digest, I read a humorous little anecdote
about a road sign someone had seen at the entrance to a small bridge. It
“IF THIS SIGN IS UNDER WATER, THIS BRIDGE IS IMPASSABLE”.
The next day I happened to stop at a small new-and-used book store
which I had never seen before in an area of the city I seldom visit. I
spied a small cardboard box full of old books on a table and decided to
have a look. The first book I pulled out (published nearly twenty years
ago, by the way!) was called Funny Road Signs. On the cover was a
cartoon illustration of the same sign I had just read about in Reader's
Digest twenty four hours earlier!
Before reading the anecdote in Reader's Digest, I had never heard
about that silly road sign. Then, BAM! I get hit with it twice in less
than twenty four hours. What are the odds of that happening? It was
totally weird and I'll probably never run across anything about that
road sign again. Or will I?
THE COP WHO WASN'T THERE
Now, this one is really
strange. I was driving down the road one Saturday morning on my way to
Lynnwood, a neighboring Seattle suburb. As I was driving, I was
listening to the news on the car radio. The newscaster was relating a
late breaking story about a robbery which had taken place at a
convenience store located on a corner in Lynnwood. The robber had fired a
gun at a police car and the bullet shattered the driver's side
windshield. The policeman was not injured.
By now I had just entered into the Lynnwood area and as I was
listening to the news story, I glanced out my window and noticed a
policeman standing in the small parking lot of a 7-11 store on the
corner. I noticed there was no police car in the parking lot and that
seemed odd; just a cop standing there without a car.
Traffic was moderately heavy and moving slowly. As I drove past the
store, the cop appeared to be staring directly at me. It was strange.
Only at that moment did it occur to me that this must be the store in
the news story that I was listening to at that very moment. Wow, I
thought, what a coincidence!
Then about two blocks further down the road
I passed a police car parked on the side of the road in front of a row
of small shops. A couple of these shops are auto repair businesses and
one was an auto glass repair shop. Well ok, I thought. That explains why
the cop at the store had no car. This was his car at the auto glass
shop. The news report said the window had been shot out.
It was weird to
be seeing the elements of this story appearing before me as they were
being told to me by the newscaster. But I had to know for sure if this
was all what it seemed to be. I decided to check it out. I would go back
to the 7-11 store and ask the cop if this was the store in the news
story and if he was the cop whose window was shot out and was that his
car up the street at the auto glass shop?
I turned the car around and was back at the 7-11 store in less than
five minutes. Four minutes, tops. But when I got there the cop was gone.
I went inside and asked the clerk if this was the store that had just
been robbed and where the cop car had its window shot out. She had no
idea what I was talking about! I asked her about the cop who was
standing in her parking lot a few minutes ago. "What cop?" she said.
"There wasn't any cop out there."
Like I said, this was a strange one. I just figured I must have passed through the Twilight Zone.
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